Friday, April 28, 2006

I'm declaring for the NBA draft

The number of underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft has reached monumental proportions. Now, second-tier schools like San Diego St, Bradley, and Rutgers can’t even convince their players to stay more than three years. Iowa St. didn’t even make the tournament, yet it has two players declared for the draft. Even more curious, San Diego St. also has two players declared for the draft. The only saving grace for the growing trend of anyone with the skill level of Brian Cardinal or better declaring for the draft is that players can return to school as long as they don’t hire an agent. That gives them the option of coming back to school if they find out from NBA executives that their draft stock is lower than expected.

That doesn’t seem like a bad situation on the surface. It has certainly cut down on the amount of Dontonio Winfield’s come draft day. However, it seems like the ability to declare for the draft and then subsequently return to school has masked the fact that college basketball would be infinitely more exciting if there wasn’t the option to declare in the first place. Parity in college basketball has reached an exciting level. This year alone, George Mason, Wichita St., and Bradley made impressive runs in the NCAA Tournament. The main reason that mid-major schools are able to compete on a national level now is because they have junior and senior-laden teams while big-time schools often are left with sophomores and freshmen due to underclassmen declaring for the draft. For the most part, parity is a good thing. It creates excitement. It gives more people a reason to watch college basketball. In the past, players like Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant would’ve gone to an elite school even if it meant riding the bench for a few years. Now, players like O’Bryant are choosing mid-major schools where they can come in and start immediately. This has become an increasingly favorable option for many top high school recruits.

However, the whole reason for the newfound parity in basketball risks being thrown out the window when seemingly every player with a pulse declares for the draft. O’Bryant is an NBA-ready player. I certainly don’t doubt his ability to be an impact player at the elite level. O’Bryant is clearly the exception rather than the rule. Players from Rice, Rutgers, Liberty, San Diego St., Florida St., Jackson St., Louisiana Tech, and Loyola Chicago have declared for the draft already. The increasing competitiveness of the mid-major schools will cease to continue if they can’t keep their players around for four years. Remember, the main reason that these schools are competitive in the first place is because of their ability to start experienced lineups featuring solid basketball players. This is an advantage that big-time schools don’t experience with the constant departure of young “phenoms” to the draft. With so many underclassmen declaring from mid-major schools, those schools will hardly be able to field experienced teams thus thwarting the mid-majors’ rise to power.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything immoral or flat-out wrong about this situation. Since players can return to school in many instances, it’s a no harm, no foul situation for the most part. However, in my mind, I feel that college basketball has suffered greatly by underclassmen leaving early. The game used to be the most exciting sport in America with the possible exception of college football. The quality of play has dropped off considerably. Skills have diminished. The result is a sport that is nowhere near its potential. College basketball today is starting to resemble college baseball more than college football. The quality of player has dropped off to the point that many of the top players in the draft are from outside the country. How many “can’t miss” players are in the NBA draft these days? I don’t even know who’s good anymore in terms of NBA ability.

College basketball needs organization. The NCAA is a joke. It is concerned with two things; 1) making money and 2) punishing rule violators. It seems to have no interest in the viability of the sport sans the tournament. It seems to have no interest in making the sport as exciting as possible. As long as millions of people get excited about the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA is content. The NBA did college basketball a huge favor by implementing an age limit. That will only be a temporary fix though. Instead of high school seniors flocking to the NBA, you will see college freshmen flocking to the NBA. There won’t be much of a difference but at least it’ll help out somewhat in making college basketball more exciting.

The new age limit in the NBA (20 years of age or two years removed from high school) is a step in the right direction. That means that most college basketball players must wait until their sophomore year before entering the draft. However, my guess is that you’ll see droves of sophomores leaving school early. That could create a situation where there are more underclassmen declaring for the draft than there are draft picks! Nobody will know for sure how this will pan out but with so many high-schoolers wanting to enter the NBA, I have to imagine that two years from now, the early-entry pool will be three years worth of underclassmen pining to make the jump. The NBA and NCAA should be preparing for that situation accordingly.

I would suggest to the NCAA and NBA that players must be deemed “acceptable” or “qualified” to leave college early. Instead of letting the player speak to each team in an effort to determine his draft position, or even worse, letting players be manipulated by their agents, the NBA could decide who is eligible to leave early. Obviously this system would take some planning but it could be as easy as all of the NBA teams voting on who they would consider taking in the first round. If a certain player doesn’t show up, then that player can’t enter the draft. The benefit for the NCAA would be a more exciting brand of basketball. The benefit for the NBA would be more quality draft picks and less under-aged bench warmers.

College basketball managed to stay afloat in the early 90’s when underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft became the norm. It wasn’t until the number of players declaring skyrocketed that the level of play started to drop off. Players don’t need to stay in college for four years for college basketball to reach its pinnacle. The best players should be in school for at least two years (like the NFL). The next group should stay for three years (like the NFL) and the solid players with potential should stay four years (like the NFL).

Unfortunately, I don’t think anything will change. Frankly, it’s a bummer for college basketball fans. I’m as much of an NBA fan as anything else and I actually think it would benefit the NBA as well. The NBA doesn’t need anymore 20 year old bench warmers with no hope of ever contributing meaningful minutes in the next five years. That is what college basketball is for. Too often there are obvious problems that need to be fixed and too often nobody does anything about it. File this with a college football playoff under “things that could make everyone happier but won’t ever happen”.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Still too many issues for Tigers to contend

The Tigers are winning consistently for the first time since Frank Tanana ruled Tiger Stadium with his 77 mph fastballs. A 12-7 record is hardly reason to make post-season reservations but the Tigers might actually be as good as their record. This year’s version of the Tigers has more in common with those Tanana (or Jack Morris if that makes you happy)-led Tigers teams than just a winning ballclub. The 2006 Tigers have turned the page from recent Tigers teams that featured a multitude of follies. The Tigers are playing good team baseball for the first time in 15 years. Here are some of the improvements that the Tigers have made since last season:

1). The Tigers are inducing high pitch counts from opposing starting pitchers which allows them to feast on middle relievers. The Tigers haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard this season. They have only scored more than five runs in 8 of 20 games this season. However, in stark contrast from the past, the Tigers aren’t going down without a fight. Early in games, the Tigers are forcing high pitch counts which enable for late-inning heroics.

Here is what the Tigers have elicited in pitch counts from opposing starting pitchers in their last six games:

Pitcher-----Innings-----Pitch count----Runs after 7th inning
E. Loaiza-------6----------86--------------0
J. Blanton------4.1--------88--------------1
B. Zito----------7---------100--------------3
J. Washburn---8.2-------120-------------1
G. Meche-------6---------121--------------1
F. Hernandez---7---------98--------------3

2). Twice this season, the Tigers have won games on single at bats from role players late in games. Brandon Inge’s 15-pitch marathon at-bat against Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer propelled the Tigers to victory. Vance Wilson’s 10-pitch battle against Seattle’s Jarrod Washburn was the catalyst to another Tigers victory. Wilson and Inge are probably the last guys Jim Leyland wanted to see up to the plate in those crucial situations. The Tigers were dreadful in drawing walks in 2005. Leyland has clearly emphasized quality at-bats and the benefits of drawing walks.

3). The Tigers are no longer non-factors after the seventh inning. In years past, the Tigers rarely, if ever, won games that they were tied or trailing after seven innings. On their current five-game winning streak, the Tigers have scored nine runs after the seventh inning.

4). The Tigers are finally beating teams they should beat. Normally, the Tigers would be lucky to split a series against Oakland, Seattle or Texas. Already this year, the Tigers have won all three series against those teams going 8-2.

5). The Tigers have been much improved in moving runners over. “Small ball” is most often seen in the National League where runs come at a premium. Jim Leyland has coached his entire career sans this season in the National League. His added emphasis on manufacturing runs has been a pleasant surprise.

6). The Tigers are playing well despite having a number of key players who are nowhere near their primes. Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Jordan Tata, Chris Shelton, and Curtis Granderson are all 25 or younger.

While the Tigers have improved in a number of areas, there are still an excess of issues that will keep the Tigers from contending.

1). The Tigers still lose games in bunches. In the past, it seemed like every three-game winning streak was immediately followed by a four-game losing streak. The Tigers are doing the same thing this year. After starting off the season 5-0, the Tigers proceeded to go 2-7 in their next nine games. There’s no obvious reason for this “glitch” but the Tigers can’t expect to contend with the AL’s elite teams if they don’t minimize losing streaks.

2). While the Tigers have been impressive at working the count this season, they are still extremely inconsistent on offense. With a lineup that seems to be strong on paper from top to bottom, the Tigers struggle too often to score runs.

3). The starting pitching has been inconsistent from top to bottom. It seems as though there is a 50/50 chance that any of the five starters will have a good or bad start. Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t been terrible but he isn’t providing a reliable effort night in and night out. The same goes for Nate Robertson. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander have been on and off as well. Mike Maroth has been excellent but he will have to return to Earth soon enough.

4). Tigers relievers have been good on paper but untimely walks have occurred far too often. Fernando Rodney hasn’t allowed a run this season but his first batter walks often put the Tigers in a bad situation. Joel Zumaya, Jordan Tata, and Jason Grilli have also struggled at times with control yielding walks.

5). The Tigers still can’t beat the AL Central’s best team. For years it was the Minnesota Twins. Now, it’s the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers were swept by the ChiSox earlier this year. It seems like there’s a mental block that forces the Tigers to play poorly in “marquee” series.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

2006 NFL Mock Draft #2

First Round

#1 Houston Texans--------Reggie Bush RB USC

Needs: OL, DL, DE, DT, LB, CB, S, TE

With needs seemingly at every position, the Texans could probably help their team more by trading the #1 pick and taking someone other than Reggie Bush. Dominic Davis is a good, young running back. Nonetheless, the Texans will likely take the first “can’t miss” running back since Barry Sanders. He’ll be good and maybe great. That’s not so bad. Either way, the Texans win.

#2 New Orleans Saints---D'Brickashaw Ferguson OT Virginia

Needs: OL, TE, DE, DT, LB, CB, S

The Saints removed themselves from this year’s quarterback circus by signing Drew Brees. That allows them to avoid the roulette game that is drafting a quarterback in the first round and turn their attention to a position of immediate need. Ferguson is the best tackle in the draft. Just a few years ago, the San Diego Chargers were an abysmal team. They handed the starting quarterback job to Drew Brees, and then traded for Ladanian Tomlinson. The Chargers immediately became one of the top offenses in the league. The addition of Brees and Ferguson should make the Saints a top-tier offense immediately considering the weapons the Saints have at running back and wide receiver. The Saints could very well become Chargers-East.

#3 Tennessee Titans-----Matt Leinart QB USC

Needs: QB, DE, S, OL, LB, CB

It’s unfortunate that the Titans even have to consider taking a quarterback in this year’s draft. Just a few short years ago, Steve McNair was the best player in the NFL. Now, he’s a beat-up veteran who isn’t even allowed to workout at his team’s facilities. The Titans know that McNair is nowhere near healthy enough to be counted on past this season. Thus, they will take the best quarterback available in their mind. Leinart fits the bill.

#4 New York Jets--------Mario Williams DE NC State

Needs: QB, RB, WR, OL, DE, CB, S

Mario Williams is one of those guys that make NFL fans extremely nervous. The combination of a relative no-namer, who flew up the draft boards without ever really dominating for an extended period of time in college is often bad news for NFL teams. Think Mike Mamula or Justin Smith. Williams has all the physical tools. The Jets need a pass-rushing presence on defense. Williams is the consensus number one defensive end. The Jets will take him under a chorus of boos from their faithful.

#5 Green Bay Packers---A.J. Hawk LB Ohio St.

Needs: OL, LB, DE, DT, CB, S

Brett Favre said he would come back if the Packers were serious about winning. If they are to prove to Favre that they are serious, they would do themselves well by taking a linebacker that is poised to become the next Brian Urlacher. The Packers have been terrible on defense and have done virtually nothing to address the problem. Hawk is as close to a can’t-miss player as the draft will yield.

#6 San Francisco 49ers---Vernon Davis TE Maryland

Needs: WR, TE, DT, LB, CB, S

Nothing makes a young quarterback feel more comfortable than an all-pro, game-changing tight end. Trent Green’s career has been made almost entirely on the presence of Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City. Vernon Davis could use his speed and superior athletic ability to do the same for Alex Smith. The 49ers have needs on defense but the draft is a puzzle in which needs have to be weighed against the “best overall player.” In this instance, Davis is just too good to pass up for a defensive player.

#7 Oakland Raiders-------Vince Young QB Texas

Needs: QB, TE, OL, DE, DT, LB, CB, S

Like the 49ers, the Raiders have needs that have to be addressed on the defensive side of the ball. And like the 49ers, they will probably pick an offensive player instead. Judging from his physical tools and college production, Vince Young looks like a good pick at #7 overall. Al Davis likes taking players that are controversial. Kerry Collins and Aaron Brooks are a temporary fix, if that. Young would look good in a Raider uniform with the luxury of throwing to Randy Moss.

#8 Buffalo Bills---------Haloti Ngata DT Oregon

Needs: QB, TE, OL, DE, DT, CB, S

The Bills will have the option of taking an excellent defensive player at the number eight position. The Bills could go with Texas’ Michael Huff, or Va. Tech’s Jimmy Williams if they want to draft a DB. However, the Bills have a big need on the defensive line and Haloti Ngata is the best DT prospect in the draft. Don’t be surprised if Ngata falls past Buffalo though. The Bills have a lot of options.

#9 Detroit Lions-------Michael Huff S Texas

Needs: QB, TE, OL, LB, CB, S

Assuming the Bills take Ngata, the Lions will likely jump on Michael Huff within the first minute of their allotted time. Huff is just the difference-making defensive back that the Lions have been coveting for years. Huff has cornerback speed with a safety’s hitting capacity. In the first mock draft that I conducted back in February, I had the Lions taking Huff as well. Huff has been the pick all along. The only thing that could ruin the Lions’ plans is if Buffalo takes Huff instead. That would leave the Lions in the unenviable position of taking Ngata despite having glaring weaknesses elsewhere.

#10 Arizona Cardinals----Brodrick Bunkley DT Florida St.

Needs: QB, TE, OL, DT, LB, CB

Bunkley is another workout warrior that did more in the few months following his college career than he did in his entire career at Florida St. That’s not to say that Bunkley isn’t a good player. He surely hasn’t received the same media attention as some of the other big names in the draft. Arizona is soft on the defensive line. This draft is deep at the DT position so Arizona could wait until the later rounds but many teams have Ngata and Bunkley as the consensus top two DT’s in the draft. Arizona might look at another position but the pick will most likely be on the defensive side of the ball.

#11 St. Louis Rams-------Jimmy Williams DB Va. Tech

Needs: TE, OL, DE, DT, LB, CB S

Williams’ draft stock has been a roller coaster since the college football season ended. First he was considered the top DB in the draft due to his position versatility. Then, he started getting placed at the latter ends of the first round in various mock drafts. Now, his stock is back up again. The Rams have been terrible on defense with the defensive backfield being a notable deficiency. Williams will give the Rams the option of playing him at safety or corner back. That combination, along with Williams’ undeniable talent makes this pick a no-brainer for St. Louis.

#12 Cleveland Browns---Tye Hill CB Clemson

Needs: OL, DE, LB, CB, S

The Browns had a surprisingly good defense last year. However, Romeo Crennel must have done it with smoke and mirrors because the Browns have zero standouts on defense. With Lee Suggs and Reuben Droughns in the backfield and Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. catching passes, the Browns probably don’t need to use the #12 pick on a skill position. The pick here should be either an offensive lineman or a defensive back. Crennel is a defensive guy who would obviously covet a fast, athletic cornerback. Despite being known by few people, Hill will be off the board early.

#13 Baltimore Ravens-----Jay Cutler QB Vanderbilt

Needs: QB, OL, DT

I’m surprised that Brian Billick a). is still going with the Kyle Boller experiment and b). is still the coach of the Ravens. Billick is a good coach. Ravens fans certainly can’t complain about the Super Bowl he brought to Baltimore. However, Boller has been a disaster. Cutler might be the most overrated quarterback in the history of the NFL Draft. After winning nothing and accomplishing close to nothing at Vanderbilt, Cutler at one point became the top quarterback ahead of Matt Leinart and Vince Young on many draft boards. Billick knows that his fate will be sealed with the success his quarterback has this season. Billick would be crazy to put his future solely in the hands of Boller. Cutler might be too enticing to pass up at #13.

#14 Philadelphia Eagles---Santonio Holmes WR Ohio St.

Needs: WR, TE, DE, LB, CB, S

There’s no mystery as to why the Eagles need to draft a wide receiver in the draft. Before T.O., the Eagles had a big hole at the receiver position. Things are even worse after T.O. For this team to reclaim its NFC dominance, Donovan McNabb will need weapons. Holmes is an excellent all-around receiver. He’s fast. He runs perfect routes. He has great hands. Most importantly, he’s not T.O. Unlike recent years, the WR crop is not deep. The Eagles will have to take one at #14 or risk going with their current group for the 2006 season.

#15 Denver Broncos------DeAngelo Williams RB Memphis

Needs: RB, OL, WR, TE, S

Denver is weird. They value running backs far less than any team in the NFL. Yet, they consistently have one of the best running games in the league. It’s almost like the old adage that the best way to get a girl to like you is to ignore her. The Broncos ignore the running game and have unparalleled success. Go figure. Williams was a consensus top ten pick just a few months ago. In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he will go in the top ten. Mike Shanahan knows a good running back when he sees one. He could very well take Williams with the intention of trading Tatum Bell for a top-notch defender. Crazier things have happened. On a side note, why didn’t Denver sign T.O. and Lavar Arrington? If any team can afford to do that, it’s Denver.

#16 Miami Dolphins------Chad Jackson WR Florida

Needs: WR, OL, DT, CB, S

Speaking of signing T.O., the Dolphins missed out big time on the T.O. sweepstakes. Miami hasn’t had a great wide receiver in decades. Although, I doubt Daunte Culpepper is complaining too much since he’s well versed in dealing with vocal wide receivers. Not signing T.O. might have been the best move for locker room harmony, but it wasn’t the best move for the win column. The Dolphins brass likely got a good look at Jackson while he was lighting up the scoreboard at Florida. Jackson has blazing speed and would give Culpepper a nice collection of receivers to throw to including Chris Chambers and Marty Booker.

#17 Minnesota Vikings----Chad Greenway LB Iowa

Needs: QB, WR, LB, CB, S

Ask five NFL General Mangers who the second best linebacker in the draft is and you might get five different answers. For some time, Mel Kiper listed DeMeco Ryans as a top ten pick. Ernie Sims has been projected anywhere from a top 15 pick to a second rounder. However, Greenway has consistently been considered a mid-first round pick. His speed and instincts are coveted by the NFL. The only knock on Greenway has been his strength relative to the average NFL linebacker. The Vikings need help on defense. Greenway will provide that.

#18 Dallas Cowboys-----Winston Justice OL USC

The Cowboys offensive line finally reached rock bottom last season. Larry Allen is no longer on the team. Julius Jones had a disappointing season running the ball. When Bill Parcells put this team together, he envisioned a strong running game and a dominating defense. He’s won multiple Super Bowls with that combination. However, the strong running game never materialized. The Cowboys need to address the offensive line. Justice is the best bet to go here if he lasts that long.

#19 San Diego Chargers----Kamerion Wimbley DE Florida St.

Needs: WR, OL, DE, DT, CB, S

Wimbley, like Bunkley and Mario Williams, has achieved more fame in the last few months than he ever did at Florida St. I have a hard time believing that all three of those cats will live up to their pre-draft billing. The good news for the Chargers is that they aren’t wasting a top ten pick on someone who may or may not pan out. At #19, they can take a chance on a guy whose potential could be through the roof. The only needs the Chargers have on offensive are at WR and OL. There isn’t anybody on the board at this point that’s worth the 19th pick at either of those positions. So, SD will address the defense and likely take a pass rusher.

#20 Kansas City Chiefs----Antonio Cromartie CB Florida St.

Needs: QB, WR, OL, DE, DT, CB, S

Kansas City needs to address their wide receiver issues. It would be a stretch to take a wide receiver at #20 considering Holmes and Jackson would already be off the board. But, they can’t live on smoke and mirrors forever. The more realistic option at this point in the draft is to bolster their weak and aging secondary. Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight hardly made a difference to a defense that has been perennially bad. I would not be surprised to see Cromartie go to Dallas at #18.

#21 New England Patriots---Manny Lawson DE NC State

Needs: WR, OL, DE, CB

The Patriots are one of the smartest drafting teams in the NFL. They usually employ the strategy of drafting the best player available rather than simply drafting by needs. Granted, they can afford to do that since they’ve been so good. At this point, Lawson is the best defensive player still on the board. The Patriots took a step back last season on the defensive side of the ball. The loss of Willie McGinest opens up a hole that needs to be filled. Lawson would be a perfect fit in New England.

#22 San Francisco 49ers---Donte Whitner DB Ohio St.

Needs: WR, TE, DT, LB, CB, S

I was surprised to see just how high Whitner has been rated by some of the draft gurus. I watched his entire career at Ohio St. I was never overwhelmed by Whitner’s ability but Ohio St. never had issues on defense. He may have been overshadowed by some of the other stars on the Buckeyes stout defenses. The 49ers would love to grab Cromartie at this spot but I doubt he makes it past Dallas and Kansas City.

#23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers---Marcus McNeil OT Auburn

Needs: OL, CB, S, LB

Jon Gruden likes to the run the football. He has two top-notch running backs in Michael Pittman and Cadillac Williams. The Bucs would love to improve the running game and provide protection for Chris Simms at the same time. McNeil would allow them to accomplish both. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs go defense instead since that unit isn’t getting any younger. If that happens, look for Jason Allen, Mathias Kiwanuka, or Ernie Sims to go here.

#24 Cincinnati Bengals----Mathias Kiwanuka DE Boston College

Needs: TE, OL, DE, DT, CB S

Kiwanuka was unanimously considered a top ten pick throughout the 2005 college football season. In fact, he was projected to go to the Lions in a number of mock drafts. Since then, Kiwanuka’s stock has fallen off a bit. His underwhelming performances after his college football career ended have made teams take a step back. However, the Bengals would gladly add a pass rusher of his talents at #24. Kiwanuka could end up being the best value pick of the first round.

#25 New York Giants-------Ernie Sims LB Florida St.

Needs: WR, LB, S

The Giants shouldn’t even bother looking at offensive players for this pick. The biggest weakness on the Giants is a sad linebacker corps. Being in the same division as Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells, the Giants must be able to stop a power running game. Ernie Sims is a first-round talent that would immediately bolster the Giants primary deficiency.

#26 Chicago Bears--------Leonard Pope TE Georgia

Needs: TE, WR, LB, CB, S

Even while the Bears were in the midst of the 2005 season, speculation was that they would use their first round pick in the 2006 draft on a tight end. In most years, the 26th pick is not guaranteed to yield a game-changing tight end. Fortunately for the Bears, this is the deepest tight end class in years. Pope is a 6’7 behemoth with wheels. He’ll open up the passing game for Brian Griese. The Bears are only going to get better on offense which is a scary proposition for teams that saw their defense up close last season.

#27 Carolina Panthers-----Eric Winston OT Miami (FL)

Needs: OL, DT, LB

The Panthers are one of the rare teams in the NFL that have few weaknesses. That translates into the luxury of drafting the best player available at a position that isn’t necessarily a weakness but could be improved. Winston fits the bill.

#28 Jacksonville Jaguars----Johnathan Joseph CB S. Carolina

Needs: DE, LB, TE, OL, CB

According to Mel Kiper, there could be as many as eight defensive backs selected in the first round. If I were an NFL team with a first round pick, I wouldn’t take any of them with the exception of Huff, Williams and Cromartie. The rest are unproven talents that would be better served as second round selections or later. However, I defer to the experts and Joseph seems to be getting some nice pre-draft buzz. The Jags need to improve on offense but Joseph might fit their needs the best at this point in the draft.

#29 NY Jets-----------------Laurence Maroney RB Minnesota

Needs: QB, RB, WR, OL, CB, S

In my humble opinion, Maroney is the second best running back in the draft. If I was running a team with a top 15 pick, I would definitely give serious consideration to Maroney. He’s a big, fast, strong running back. Those are the players that end up dominating in the NFL. The Jets would relish the opportunity to take Maroney at #29. I would be shocked if he made it this far but Maroney hasn’t received nearly the attention he deserves.

#30 Indianapolis Colts-----Max-Jean Gilles OG Georgia

Needs: RB, OL, DT

After Manning ho’d out his offensive line following the Colts’ post-season loss to the Steelers, look for the Colts to bolster that position. Gilles is considered the top guard in the draft. The Colts would love to take Maroney but I highly doubt he makes it past the Jets at #29. If the Colts were wise, they would trade up to the low 20’s to steal Maroney before he gets to the Jets. If the Colts stay put, Gilles could be the pick.

#31 Seattle Seahawks------Jason Allen DB Tennessee

Needs: C, OG, DE, DT, CB, S

Of all the teams with a first round pick, Seattle provides the biggest mystery as to who they are going to pick. Seattle really could take any of the next ten players in this mock draft. I originally penciled in Nick Mangold as the pick here but I think it is a bit of a stretch to take a center in the first round. The Seahawks could definitely use Mangold but they are in a position where they can take the best player available. DeMeco Ryans would’ve been an excellent pick but the Seahawks brought in Julian Peterson. Jonathan Scott would be an excellent value but Walter Jones and Floyd Womack already anchor the tackle positions. Sinorice Moss would be a good fit but the Seahawks went out and spent money on Nate Burleson. After weighing all of the options, the Seahawks might spend this pick on a defensive back and take Jason Allen

#32 Pittsburgh Steelers------LenDale White RB USC

Needs: WR, OT, DE, CB, S

White’s hamstring tear could be just what the Steelers were hoping for. Most NFL teams will likely be scared off by White’s injury and weight. However, if there’s a team that doesn’t care about a running back that more accurately resembles a bus, it’s the Steelers. Pittsburgh would jump at the chance to bring White into the fold. Once White’s hamstring heals, he’ll get himself back to his USC playing weight and shock people with his ability to run between the tackles and take it outside.

Second Round

#33 Houston Texans Jonathan Scott OT Texas
#34 New Orleans Saints Gabe Watson DT Michigan
#35 NY Jets Nick Mangold C Ohio St.
#36 Green Bay Packers Tamba Hali DE Penn St.
#37 Denver Broncos Sinorice Moss WR Miami (Fl)
#38 Oakland Raiders DeMeco Ryans LB Alabama
#39 Tennessee Titans Darnell Bing S USC
#40 Detroit Lions Bobby Carpenter LB Ohio St.
#41 Arizona Cardinals Mercedes Lewis TE UCLA
#42 Buffalo Bills Daryn Colledge OT Boise St.
#43 Cleveland Browns Ko Simpson S S. Carolina
#44 Baltimore Ravens Davin Joseph OG Oklahoma
#45 Philadelphia Eagles Jesse Mahelona DT Tennessee
#46 St. Louis Rams Andrew Whitworth OT LSU
#47 Atlanta Falcons Taitusi Latui OG USC
#48 Minnesota Vikings Richard Marshall CB Fresno St.
#49 Dallas Cowboys D'Qwell Jackson LB Maryland
#50 San Diego Chargers Claude Wroten DT LSU
#51 Minnesota Vikings Joseph Addai RB LSU
#52 New England Patriots Martin Nance WR Miami (OH)
#53 Washington Redskins Rodrique Wright DT Texas
#54 Kansas City Chiefs Charles Spencer OG Pittsburgh
#55 Cincinnati Bengals Charles Gordon CB Kansas
#56 New York Giants Daniel Bullocks S Nebraska
#57 Chicago Bears Abdul Hodge LB Iowa
#58 Carolina Panthers Rocky McIntosh LB Miami (FL)
#59 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thomas Howard LB UTEP
#60 Jacksonville Jaguars Dominique Byrd TE USC
#61 Denver Broncos Anthony Fasano TE Notre Dame
#62 Indianapolis Colts Babatunde Oshinowo DT Stanford
#63 Seattle Seahawks Orien Harris DT Miami (FL)
#64 Pittsburgh Steelers Kelly Jennings CB Miami (FL)

Third Round

#65 Houston Texans Greg Eslinger C Minnesota
#66 Houston Texans Kai Parham LB Virginia
#67 Green Bay Packers Ryan O'Callaghan OT California
#68 Denver Broncos Ashton Youboty CB Ohio St.
#69 Oakland Raiders Kyle Williams DT LSU
#70 Buffalo Bills Brodie Croyle QB Alabama
#71 NY Jets Derek Hagan WR Arizona St.
#72 Arizona Cardinals Cedric Griffin CB Texas
#73 Buffalo Bills Bernard Pollard S Purdue
#74 Detroit Lions Jeremy Trueblood OT Boston College
#75 New England Patriots Maurice Drew RB UCLA
#76 Philadelphia Eagles Ray Edwards DE Purdue
#77 St. Louis Rams Johnathan Lewis DT Va. Tech
#78 Cleveland Browns Darryl Tapp DE Va. Tech
#79 Atlanta Falcons Danieal Manning CB Abiline Christian
#80 Dallas Cowboys Roman Harper S Alabama
#81 San Diego Chargers Gerris Wilkinson LB Ga. Tech
#82 Miami Dolphins John McCargo DT NC State
#83 Minnesota Vikings Charlie Whitehurst QB Clemson
#84 San Francisco 49ers DeMario Minter CB Georgia
#85 Kansas City Chiefs Will Blackmon CB/WR B. College
#86 New England Patriots Devin Hester CB/WR Miami (FL)
#87 New York Giants Maurice Stovall WR Notre Dame
#88 Chicago Bears Pat Watkins S Florida St.
#89 Carolina Panthers Dee Webb CB Florida
#90 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Anthony Smith S Syracuse
#91 Cincinnati Bengals Tim Day TE Oregon
#92 Jacksonville Jaguars Spencer Havner LB UCLA
#93 Denver Broncos Hank Baskett WR New Mexico
#94 Indianapolis Colts Brian Calhoun RB Wisconsin
#95 Minnesota Vikings Elvis Dumervil DE Louisville
#96 Pittsburgh Steelers Greg Lee WR Pittsburgh
#97 NY Jets Omar Jacobs QB Bowling Green

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The Detroit Red Wings are playing second fiddle to the Detroit Pistons this season which is a big change from years past. Granted, the Wings didn’t have the same draught that the Pistons went through in the mid to late 90’s which probably makes Pistons fans happier than Red Wings fans. However, this season has been much different. The Pistons have taken all the attention. Sadly, the NHL has only itself to blame. The lockout that cost the entire 2005 season is having detrimental effects that will linger well beyond this season. It’s not so much that people are angry with the players or owners. Some people might be but my guess is that they are in the minority. The real problem is that when a professional sports league misses out on a whole season, people learn to live without it. Each season piques our interest and leaves us wanting more for the next season. There was no 2005 season so nobody was left wanting more. The NHL was already the league that could afford a lockout the least. Yet, they want on with it and now face a situation where even the marquee team in the league struggles to make the headlines.

The situation is unfortunate for the Detroit Red Wings because this has been a remarkable season. The diehard fans know all about it. But, how many hockey diehards do you know? Just to get you caught up, the Wings have set two notable records this season. They set the NHL record for road wins in a season. They also tied the record for best start in league history. Since January 10, the Red Wings are 30-3-5. The Wings are 20-0-3 since March 4. They have eight players with at least 20 goals. They lead the league in points. They’re second in goals for. They’re second in goals against. They lead the league in Power Play percentage. They’re second in Penalty Kill percentage. The Red Wings have dominated the NHL in every conceivable way this season. Yet, few people expect the Wings to win the Stanley Cup. Sure, few would be surprised if they did win the Cup but nobody really expects it to happen.

The Wings have been in this position too many times entering the playoffs without anything to show for it. The 1995 season is the precedent that Red Wings fans might want to remember going into the playoffs this season. That team dominated the regular season like no other in NHL history. Although that team made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, the run came to an abrupt end at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Regular season domination is a great story but it hardly means anything come playoff time. The 1995 season wasn’t the only year the Wings fizzled come playoff time. More recently, the Wings took gaudy records into early round playoff match-ups against the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames only to be bounced from contention.

I can’t tell if there were obvious differences between the Red Wings teams that bowed out of the playoffs with gaudy regular season records and the Red Wings teams that won Stanley Cups without the gaudy records. It almost seems like the teams that finished first in the regular season never won in the playoffs. It’s also possible that the Wings just ran into hot goalies at the wrong time. I have to say that I don’t feel particularly good about the Wings chances this year compared to the field. Don’t get me wrong, the Wings are an excellent team but I think Ottawa, Dallas, and Carolina have just as good of a chance as do a few other teams.

I question the Wings actual dominance compared to what their record would seemingly indicate. The Red Wings play in a division that features three of the five worst teams in the NHL. The Wings are 21-1-2 against Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus this season. Not surprisingly, the Wings have the easiest schedule in the NHL this season and it’s not even close. Also, the Dallas Stars are 20-10 against top ten teams in the NHL according to the Sagarin Ratings. The Wings are 14-10. The Carolina Hurricanes are 9-5. The Stars are 29-14 against top 16 teams while the wings are 24-14. Carolina is 19-9. No other team in the NHL is anywhere near Dallas, Detroit and Carolina in these categories. In fact, there are only three teams in the entire league with winning records against the top ten. Even more unbelievable is that there are only seven teams in the NHL with winning records against the top 16. This speaks for a league rampant with mediocre teams beating up on each other. That is precisely how teams like Detroit manage to put up gaudy numbers which in turn makes them appear invincible. The league leader in points in the 2003-04 season (the season before this one in the NHL) had 109 points. Second was 106 and third was 104. This season already has point totals of 124, 112, 111, 111, and 108. There are four teams this season with more points than the best team of 2003-04. That speaks for the overall mediocrity of the league. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to say that Dallas, Ottawa, and Carolina would’ve had something close to 124 points had they been in the same division as three of the worst teams in the NHL.

All this does nothing to say that the Wings aren’t good or that they aren’t capable of winning the Stanley Cup. The fact is that the season has gone by unusually quiet for the Wings this year especially for a team that has dominated the NHL. The lockout is largely to blame but so is the sense that although the Wings have accomplished a lot this season, they really haven’t accomplished anything.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mission #1 Accomplished

The Pistons are on the verge of clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs. As I’ve said all year long, the Pistons probably have a 1 in 4 chance of winning the NBA Championship if they have to play game 7 on the road in the NBA Finals. My guess is that those chances jump to 3 in 4 with home court advantage. To some extent, home court in the NBA Playoffs matters for every team. However, home court in the NBA Finals is much more important than home court in the first or second round. The reason for this is that San Antonio and Dallas are just too good at home. Last year’s NBA Finals proved just how difficult it is to beat San Antonio when it has home court advantage. The Spurs didn’t even play particularly well. The Pistons struggled to get into a rhythm while in San Antonio. The tide turned as soon as the series moved back to Detroit. Games 3-5 were dominated by the Pistons (with the exception of the last few minutes of game 5). The Pistons had more energy. They were crisper on offense. Elite teams play at an elite level when they are at home. That makes it doubly tough to win a series without home court advantage against elite teams.

Amazingly, this will be the first time these Pistons will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Pistons had to win on the road against Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals and on the road against LA in the NBA Finals in 2004. Last year, the Pistons had to win on the road against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals and then play on the road against San Antonio in the NBA Finals. It’s a testament to the Pistons’ ability that they were able to win three of those series and very narrowly lost the fourth. For the first time since the Bad Boys era, Pistons fans will be able to enjoy the luxury of knowing that the Pistons will have all of the bonuses of having home court advantage throughout the playoffs. We no longer have to worry about how Detroit can possibly win game 7 in Miami or how the Pistons will manage to win game 6 AND 7 in San Antonio.

Coming into this season, the goal was to finish with the best record in the NBA. While the gap between the East and the West has mostly disappeared, the East is still the weaker conference. The Pistons haven’t been able to take advantage of the East’s mediocrity in the last two years. It seemed that it was more a result of their nonchalant attitude rather than the inability to get the job done. The Pistons have occasionally coasted as boredom set in. This is a team that thrives on competition and “clutch” situations. Playing at Atlanta in December is hardly “clutch” time. As a result, the Pistons sleep walked through games resulting in embarrassing losses. Whereas the Pistons shrugged it off as a meaningless regular season game, these were the losses that ultimately kept the Pistons from securing home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Once again, the Pistons were afforded an easy schedule featuring an excess of Eastern Conference lightweights. The Sagarin Ratings shows the Pistons having the second easiest schedule in the NBA this season. Unfortunately for Pistons fans, the Pistons only decided to take advantage of their annual easy schedule this season. One can only imagine how different the NBA Finals would’ve been last year if the Pistons had home court advantage. The Pistons essentially lost last year’s Championship in the regular season.

With a regained desire to become NBA Champions once again and the new offensive efficiency that has resulted from the hiring of Flip Saunders, the Pistons have finally taken the regular season seriously. With essentially the same team as last year, the Pistons have moved from an average point differential of +3.9 in 2005 to +7.3 this season. It is obvious that the Pistons put increased attention on the regular season. Despite San Antonio and Dallas being elite-level teams, the Pistons will have their easiest road to the title yet. Throw in the fact that Tim Duncan is not anywhere near 100% and things look even better. To win the NBA Championship last season, the Pistons had to win two games in a row in San Antonio. Considering the Spurs were 38-3 at home in the regular season and the Pistons hadn’t won in San Antonio in close to a decade, the chances were slim. The Pistons came within five minutes of doing the impossible. Should the Pistons reach the Finals this year; games 6 and 7 will be in Detroit. That sounds pretty good to me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Is "this" finally the year?

This isn’t the first time the Tigers have started off the season on a roll. In 2004, the Tigers also started the season 5-1. Coming off of the 2003 season that featured arguably the worst team in Major League Baseball history, 5-1 was a pleasant surprise for Tigers fans. Even the most steadfast Tigers fans realized that the 2004 Tigers weren’t good enough to keep things going past May. The talent was lacking in every aspect of the team. Flash forward to the 2006 Tigers and their 5-1 start, and there’s a whole different feel. This team can win, and barring a disaster, it will win.

The likelihood that each of the Tigers’ starting pitchers would have a win after the first five games was a doubtful proposition at best just ten days ago. Not only did each starter pick up a win, but most of them were in dominating fashion. For the first time in ages, the Tigers have a number of luxuries. They have a legitimate 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman. Rogers might be the number one starter in name only but Rogers’ presence might take some pressure off of Bonderman. The Tigers have a star-rookie pitcher in Justin Verlander that actually looks to be good enough to live up to the accolades. For every Verlander, the Tigers have had 30 guys that failed miserably. Each of Detroit’s five starters has a legitimate chance of winning each time out. That’s without Joel Zumaya. Zumaya might even be better than Verlander which isn’t hyperbole. Many analysts listed Zumaya as their choice for rookie of the year in the American League! Keep in mind that not only has Zumaya never pitched a big league game, but he isn’t even a starter or a closer. Baseball experts were picking him to win the rookie of the year award as a middle reliever! It has been suggested that Zumaya won’t stay out of the rotation past July. I suppose it could go either way. If Zumaya is really that good, then that might force Jim Leyland to make a move. However, unless Robertson and/or Maroth have meltdowns, I would be surprised to see either of those two sent to the bullpen. The good news is that if that happens, it’ll happen because Zumaya is just simply too dominating to be kept in the pen. That’s a situation the Tigers haven’t been in since, well, maybe never!

The success of the bullpen and starters 3-5 will probably dictate how much success the Tigers end up having this year. Since it hasn’t happened in thirteen years, my wish for the Tigers is to finish at or above .500. However, if the Tigers continue playing the way they’re playing now, I will probably start expecting more. This team is capable of winning consistently throughout the season. Few teams in baseball are able to end the game in the 8th and 9th innings with two formidable closers. The Tigers have this luxury with Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones.  Combined with Zumaya, that makes three above average pitchers coming out of the bullpen. Jamie Walker, Bobby Seay, Chris Spurling and Jason Girili give the Tigers a number of effective arms out of the bullpen. If Zumaya is moved into the rotation, Maroth or Robertson could be moved to the pen if not traded. Robertson might actually be suited for a relief role as a power lefty but Maroth is probably more effective starting. It is important to remember that there were high hopes for the Tigers bullpen headed into last year with Percival, Urbina, Farnsworth, and Rodney. That bullpen fell faster than Ginny Sacramoni jumping after a piece of ham out of a tenth story window. That doesn’t mean this year’s bullpen will suffer the same fate. It’s just important to remember that bullpens can be fickle. Even though it’s only been six games, it is overtly apparent that this year’s bullpen is deeper, more versatile, and more talented than last year’s mess.

The most telling sign of the Tigers pending success this season is that both the pitching and hitting seem to be strengths. There aren’t too many teams that can make that claim. While the pitching may be up and down at points this season with inexperience, the hitting should be a strength from now until game 162. I doubt I was the only one that balked at seeing Chris Shelton hitting sixth on Leyland’s opening day scorecard. Shelton was arguably the Tigers’ best hitter last year and is clearly the best hitter thus far this season. Shelton hitting sixth isn’t an indictment of Leyland managerial deficiencies. It simply speaks for the depth and power the Tigers have in the lineup from 1-9. If Shelton weren’t hitting sixth, someone else with even better career accolades would have to. If Shelton hitting sixth looks strange, just imagine how Craig Monroe feels hitting 8th.  Monroe led the Tigers with 89 RBI’s last season. With Placido Polanco, Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen hitting at the top of the order Leyland is able to increase the productivity of the lineup by moving Shelton and Monroe down in the order without costing potency at the top of the lineup. That is certainly an affordability that most managers do not have. Even better for Tigers fans is that it seems to be working. The Tigers broke a major league record for most home runs by a single team through the first six games of the season. Shelton seems to relish hitting in the sixth spot where he can sneak up on unsuspecting pitchers who may relax after getting through the meat of the order.

The most exciting aspect of the 2006 Detroit Tigers isn’t the fact that the team is off to a fast start or appears to be good enough to reach .500 or better. The biggest reason to be excited is that best is yet to come for the Tigers organization. The young talent on the team is second to none in baseball. Bonderman, Verlander, Zumaya, and Tata are easily the best group of young pitchers in major league baseball today. Curtis Granderson and Chris Shelton are just starting what hopefully will be long careers in D-town. The minor leagues feature a wealth of capable big league talent waiting in the wings. That doesn’t mean that the Tigers won’t win this year. That simply means that if the Tigers do end up winning this year, it won’t be in one and done fashion.

The chances for success this season lie within a bunch of variables--some of which the Tigers can control and some of which the Tigers cannot. If the Tigers can get good, consistent pitching from starters 3-5 and the bullpen, there is no reason that this team can’t finish .500. However, for the Tigers to make a run at the Central Division title, the division can’t be a breeding ground for baseball perfection like it was last year. The White Sox and Indians each had dream seasons in 2005. I doubt Chicago’s pitchers can duplicate a year in which all five starters had career years. The White Sox are a good team but last year’s performance was an aberration. If Chicago doesn’t come back to Earth this season, the Tigers will simply be out of luck. The same goes with Cleveland. Despite not making the playoffs last year, the Indians finished 93-69. My guess is that the division as a whole will be less potent. Success against the Kansas City Royals may become the differentiating factor between Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and even Minnesota.

Despite my optimism after one week of play, I have to be honest and say I felt the exact same way going into last season. I was quietly optimistic yet realistically reserved. That did me no good. So, I’m going to take a different approach this season. There is no reason for the Tigers to finish below .500. The team is better. The division has to be weaker. The pitching is better. The hitting is better. The coaching is better. Everything is better. My prediction for this season is 87-75. That won’t be good enough to win the Central (Chicago or Cleveland will win more than 87 games) or the Wild Card (Boston or New York will win more than 87 games). While my prediction for the Tigers would be their best showing since 1988, they will have to do better than that to make the playoffs. My prediction aside, I’m still awaiting the chance to root for a .500 team.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Is parity in college basketball a good thing?

Winning the NCAA Tournament has long been the easiest way for a coach to be immortalized as a coaching great. Barring a major recruiting scandal (i.e. Jim Harrick, Steve Fisher, and Jerry Tarkanian), coaches that win the NCAA Tournament have historically been held in the highest regard. However, I've been wondering if that is still the case. I guess I'm not really making a statement either way as much as I'm wondering aloud if winning the Tournament no longer carries the same prestige for the winning coach. Mid-majors are making deep runs into the Tournament. Consensus number one teams going into the Tournament are rarely making to the Final Four. Believe it or not, Florida is the only team this decade that has made it to two championship games. I was floored by that statistic. In that same span, George Mason, LSU, UCLA, Duke Florida, Illinois, Louisville, Connecticut, Michigan St., Oklahoma St., Georgia Tech, Kansas, Marquette, Texas, Syracuse, Indiana, Oklahoma, Maryland, Arizona, Wisconsin, and North Carolina have all made trips to the Final Four. That's 21 teams in seven seasons. I can't decide if that means it's easier to win the NCAA Tournament or more difficult. On one hand, since so many different teams were able to reach the Final Four this decade, it could be argued that it's not nearly as difficult as it used to be. Contrastingly, it could be argued that the fact that there are so many different teams that can make the tournament, it's even harder for a coach to lead his team to the Championship. As good as Duke and Coach K has been, they've won one Championship in 14 years!

There is no question that the pressure on coaches in D-1 basketball is greater than ever. With teams like George Mason, Bradley and Wichita St. making runs in this year's Tournament, other mid-majors and lower level major programs are expecting their coaches to do the same thing. Seton Hall just fired Louis Orr after he led the Pirates to an at-large bid in the deepest conference in college basketball. Granted, Seton Hall had some bad losses including its first round Tournament game with Wichita St., but the fact that Seton Hall made the Tournament at all was something that was unthinkable back in November.

College basketball coaches are in the unenviable position of having more pressure to win while at the same time getting less respect for doing just that. The college basketball climate is such that parity will continue to evolve to the point that the NCAA Tournament will expand and conferences like the MVC and CAA will slowly adopt major conference status. This will decrease the odds of a team like Duke, or Connecticut winning the Tournament even more. It seems like the Tournament is no longer an event that crowns the best team in basketball. There are so many good teams that it's nearly impossible to expect any team (even a powerhouse like Connecticut and Duke) to win six straight games against top-caliber competition. Billy Donovan said it best last week when he made the statement that, "If the Tournament was played over again, you'd probably have four different teams in the Final Four." I agree. If that is, in fact, true, then that does lend some credence that Tournament success is less about coaches and more about luck.

My guess is that winning the Tournament will become a harder task while at the same time, bringing less credit for the winning coach since it seems like "everyone" can win the Tournament. That brings me to another question I've been contemplating. Is the state of parity in D-1 basketball helping or hurting the game? I never thought about this until last week when someone made a comment to me about not knowing who anybody was and thus not being interested in the games. As an in-depth college basketball fan, I pretty much know all the teams. However, the average-Joe whom the tournament is marketed to doesn't have a clue which players George Mason or even LSU has on their teams. Personally, I think the parity is excellent for competition but the inevitable result is that there will be teams like George Mason making the Final Four and there will also be Final Fours with no number one seeds. The draw of the Tournament isn't just the excitement but also the fact that the winner will have passed a gauntlet of games to be crowned Champion. The consensus among college basketball fans after this year's Tournament is that it was boring and the fact that four teams from out of the blue made the Final Four made it less meaningful. It's important to remember though, that the Tournament is set up to allow that result. Any team can go on a miracle run and win the Championship a la Villanova circa 1985. That is part of the allure. With conference tournaments, every team has a chance. However, since nobody ever really beats the odds with the exception of one or two "magical" runs, having success in the Tournament was always still viewed as a difficult endeavor. Since lower seed success has now become more of the rule rather than the exception, the "magic" of a lower seed winning has all but disappeared.

I have to admit that seeing no number one teams in the Final Four combined with a foursome of decent but not great teams comprise this year's Final Four makes the Tournament less prestigious for me. I realize that the combination of early defections to the NBA and reduced scholarships has created the present state of parity in D-1 basketball. I don't think anybody is to blame or that it would even be fair to change things. I just think it was an unforeseen development that might just have the unfortunate byproduct of lessening the appeal of March Madness. If there's any consolation, it's that the Tournament can afford to give up some of its appeal and still remain the greatest event in sports.

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